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Father and son studying in Hevron

Yesterday, my wife and I visited the yeshiva high school in Maale Hever, where one of our sons will be learning next year. The settlement is located on the edge of the Judean Desert about ten minutes south of Hevron. As we were driving, I remembered back some 30 years ago to my first trip to Israel, how I was blown away by the biblical scenery along this very same road to the City of our Forefathers. The vineyards of Efrata, the terraced landscapes, the holiness shining off the hills, the realization that King David herded his sheep, here, in these very fields, all filled me with the overwhelming understanding, like a bolt of lightning in the darkness, that if I wanted to sincerely embrace a new life of Torah, as Torah was meant to be lived, in all of its freedom, pride, and holy beauty, then Eretz Yisrael was the “Super Bowl” for a serious Jew.

It is impossible to describe the feeling of a visit to Hevron, where we stopped on our way back to Yerushalayim. It’s a little like visiting your mom and dad after a very long absence. This is where our Nation all started. Not in Brooklyn. Not in Los Angeles. Here in Hevron, the history of our Nation begins, in the field of Machpelah, which remains today just as it was when Avraham purchased it. It is impossible to describe the transcendental feeling in the Tomb of the Patriarchs when you recite the Blessing of Avraham at the beginning of the Amidah prayer, and you are standing, trembling with awe and joy, with the realization that Avraham Avinu is here alongside you, with Yitzhak and Yaacov, here, in Hevron, where all prayers gather from all over the world to receive our father Avraham’s blessing before traveling on to Jerusalem, just a short drive down the road.


After praying, I sat with one of my sons and learned the Parsha with him, here in Hevron, where Jewish education all started, feeling that we were a living part of tradition, carrying the mission of the Jewish People forward, educating my son to be a proud Jew in the Land of our forefathers.

This week’s Torah portion of “Bechutotei” states with crystal clear clarity, again and again, that the exile is a curse and a punishment. It equates the exile with a terrible and frightening disease. Its language is brutal and horrific, leaving no room for misunderstanding. Exile from Eretz Yisrael is the worst punishment that can befall the Jewish People.

Given this terrible predicament, the task of Diaspora Jewry was to survive the exile and prepare the wandering and homeless Jewish community for its awaited return to the Land of Israel. The goal of returning to Israel is emphasized in the Torah, and in the visions of our Prophets again and again, more than any other theme. For nearly 2000 years, we prayed and dreamed about returning to Zion. Then something went terribly wrong. When the State of Israel was established, and we finally had the chance to return home to our Land, the vast majority of Jewish communities in the West turned their backs on the opportunity. Instead of wanting to escape the exile, they chose to stay. In defiance of the clear promises of the Torah, the Prophets, and 2000 years of prayers and dreams, in defiance of the clear discernible fact that God was gathering His outcasts back to Zion, and miraculously rebuilding the new State of Israel into one of the superpowers of the world, the Diaspora communities in the West decided to remain where they were, living amongst the gentiles in foreign lands. Instead of rushing to rebuild Israel, and take part in the long-awaited Redemption that was unfolding for everyone to see, they continued to build and strengthen their bastions in golus. After 2000 years of yearning, when the time came to return, they got cold feet. Yes, with their money, they helped a great deal. Out of love for our homeland and concern for the Jews who were rebuilding it, they reach deep into their pockets and gave. They exerted political pressure on Israel’s behalf. But in the matter of coming themselves, by and large, they failed to heed the call and join the hundreds of thousands of secular pioneers, Sefardi Jews, Yemenite Jews, and Holocaust survivors who were returning to Israel, in accord with ancient prophesies, age-long prayers, and the eternal command of the Torah.



  1. Tzvi, as much as I support your message, I think we have to have very modest expectations of its effect on the American Jewish public. Most of them simply don't want to hear it. But if your message reaches the heart of even one Jew in America, then all of your hard work will have paid off.

  2. Birthright, who he says 'cheapens' the land of Israel has undoubtedly inspired far more Jews to make aliyah than Tzvi, who continuously uses offensive platitudes to insult would-be or could-be olim. What Birthright- and many others- seem to know is that you don't inspire by means lambasting the only thing that many Jews know. Sorry. Takes more creativity and *respect* for your fellow Jews than that. :::end rant:::

  3. Actually, Tzvi often writes in such a way that if you don't read it carefully, you can easily assume that he's trashing something, when in reality he takes care to juxtapose statements of respect for individuals/organization/ideas with sharp criticisms of wider problems.

  4. I re-read it— I still think that his general approach is to emphasize the concept of the diaspora as punishment. While I understand (and believe) the textual context for this, it simply does not inspire. People like us can read and nod in agreement, but the people who have yet to come here read it, get offended, feel even more isolated from Judaism/Zionism. That's how it always goes.

  5. Cori Widen BUT the diaspora IS a punishment. Aside from that, lately, there have been reports of anarchist anti israel activists getting on birthright trips so they can stay over for free and cause trouble. Many of the not even Jewish but forging documents. I'll look for the link.

  6. You don't need to look for the link- you're missing my point. I said that I understand and believe what he says about diaspora. I'm saying that saying it over and over again only isolates the very people that we are trying to inspire.

  7. Cori Widen – Tzvi is a strong supporter of Birthright. He has hosted many Birthright individuals at his house for Shabbat dinner. Everybody leaves with a much greater inspiration of Judaism and for the Land of Israel. Tzvi’s house has a long list for Birthright people to get his invite. Maybe you should be invited also. In fact, I’ve been trying for years.:-)

  8. The diaspora is not coming to Israel for a reason. Actually for so many reasons. Instead of reproaching it, I would try to understand why. It is obvious that everything is much more complicated, and it is not just stupidity or stubborness. Millions of Jews cannot be wrong!

  9. Millions of Jews were wrong when they chose to stay in Europe before the Holocaust, even after people like Rabbi Kook and Zev Jabotinsky warned them. There is a blindness that sets in when it comes to leaving the exile for Israel, just like what happened with the Spies in the Wilderness who were the leaders of the tribes, but they led the people astray by not wanting to come to Israel. The great Sage, the Gaon of Vilna speaks about this in his writings.

  10. Cori, with all due respect, the Diaspora has not failed it is we who have failed. We have failed to understand the message of the Diaspora. The exile is more than a punishment, it is a learning tool. What do we learn from it? We learn that we are in fact different and separate and that the nations see us that way — always! We learn that we are not truly free until we are under G-d's protection, because over the last 2000 years we have seen time and again how G-d has punished us and yet has not let us completely perish as he promised.

    When I first started reading Tzvi's blogs I was insulted. I too live in the Diaspora. A little background first and I'll get to the point. I learned in Yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel in the early 80's. I was very young and did not appreciate the full significance of where I was. I was afraid and lonely. I left Israel and came back to the US, back to my mother's house. As it was the early 1980's the economy was bad and I stayed in the Diaspora to help my mom with her finances. I live here still to this day. Back to the point: As I was saying, at first I was insulted by Tzvi's stance that we should all return to Israel or we are not doing the Will of G-d. I am shomer shabbas, keep Kosher, wear Tzitizit and Tefillin, daven and so on. I even opened a shul here in the town where I live in hopes of bringing unaffiliated Jews back to Judaism. So when I read Tzvi's posts I was a little mystified and thought of all the frum Jews I know and thought how could he be right? At first I didn't think much about his opinion. Then I realized as I studied Torah that Tzvi in fact correct.

    Tzvi is right because we are commanded to keep 613 commandments. We cannot keep a lot of them outside of Israel. They are attached to the land. They are dependent upon it. All of our efforts outside of the land of Israel, while commendable do not really count. If we choose not to return to Israel we are in effect disobeying G-d and ignoring one of His foremost precepts, that is we are to live in the land.

    Tzvi is not wrong because he is trying to get our attention. This is a very important lesson for us all. To be really Jewish we MUST live in the land of Israel. The land that G-d Himself swore to our fathers. The land that Moses and his entire generation was not allowed to enter. The land that is attached to Torah and Mitzvah. This is the only place the Jew belongs. He cannot purposefully live outside of Israel and call himself a good Jew because in reality he is ignoring the most important thing. The thing without which we would not even exist, that thing is the land of Israel itself. B'Shalom, Isaac

  11. Excellent and important article. Instead of trying to defend a presence in exile one should read objectively and see the truth here. Exile is not "only" a tragedy for the Jewish People. Our Sages tell us that whenever the Jews are exiled, the Divine Presence is exiled with them (Talmud Bavli, Megila 29). We mourn over the exiled Shechina – the inability of His good to be revealed in all creation – even if the Jews are content in that exile. The exile is thus considered a chillul Hashem (Ezekiel 36). If we are really concerned about His name and the good of all mankind we really must come home! Thanks Tzvi

  12. Avrohom, the Mitzvot have no shortcomings. It is we who are falling short. The idea here is that there are certain things that are specifically attached to the land that cannot be observed elsewhere. Many of these have to do with growing selling and eating crops. Food, making and eating bread. Giving G-d what is His. We are simply not able to perform these mitzvot outside of Israel as that is the place from where we are commanded to do them.

    The order of importance? How can one discern which of G-d's commands is more important than another? That is precisely the thing that is separating the diaspora Jews from those in Israel. It is the complacency in thinking that being outside the land of Israel is as good as being inside the land. This is precisely what Tzvi is trying to fight against! I applaud his efforts. It is certainly an uphill battle. If there are any doubts about the importance of living in Israel from G-d's perspective, see what he did as the people of Israel railed against the land in the story of the spies. See that he was very angry with them and gave them no rest.

    For 40 years our fathers wandered in the wilderness until they all died. This is a grave sin. I don't pretend to know which mitzvah is the most and which is the least important. They are all important. Is one life worth more than another? Is one Jew better than another? How can one place a value on that which G-d told us is important? Is one sin lesser than another? Can you list the order of importance for each sin? We have to stop thinking in terms of manifestation of reward and punishment. Rather all punishment is a cleansing and all reward is life giving. We do not know the value of every mitzvah. I would never G-d forbid attempt such a thing.

  13. Tzvi Fishman is right on some things. He does portray the Jewish world properly in the diaspora the best by being blunt and saying they only worship the Egel HaZahav. It's absolutely sickening that even the "orthodoxy" are following this false god as well. Just go to 5 towns! One big smorgasbord on who can be the most materialistic, egotistical, piece of trash.

  14. I think Tzvi Fishman should write an article on the JAP in diaspora. Larry David portrayed her properly in the "ski episode" of Curb. You know something is exact if Philip Roth, Tzvi Fishman, and Rav Kahane ALL Agree on one thing: The Diaspora Jew.

  15. Tzvi, a big reason these Jews marry shiksas is because the "parents" of these Jewish girls failed to raise their women with any proper dignity what so ever. Raising selfish, snobby, princesses will make any sane man run. I feel for my brothers who grabbed a shiksa babe, but I hold the Jewish women's parents responsible for preaching that their daughter is ENTITLED to live in a gold palace with servants and shouldn't have to work a day in her life. PisdetZ!

  16. I do not think it helps to fight among ourselves about this matter. Not everyone has the same interpretation of Judaism and its meaning for today's world (or yesterday's or tomorrow's for that matter). In my opinion certain aspects of our religion have changed fundamentally from biblical times and, in that sense, there is "no going back" even if we" go back" to Israel in the geographical sense. Even if all Jews lived in Israel and we rebuilt the Temple, would we actually go back to sacrificing animals? Would we let all the land lie uncultivated every seventh year? Would we remit all debts every 50th year and return all property to its "orginal" owners (whoever that might be). Some things have changed forever. As an American Jew, I am proud of Judaism as it exists in the world today both in Israel and elsewhere. I feel that all Jews are interconnected (even above the ways in which all human beings are interconnected) regardless of where they live. Our still dispersed Jewish civilization is very great, though imperfect. Perhaps in the long run the route to a closer approach to perfection does lie with our eventual consolidation within Eretz Yisrael. But who knows the time frame for that? Is it 10 years or is it 10,000 years? I don't know and I don't think Tzvi Fishman knows either. There is work for us to do in both within Israel and outside of Israel.

  17. Stephen, in answer to your questions, Yes, Yes, and Yes. The whole point of Torah is that it is eternal, in contrast to the whims of human cultural mores. We can fine tune the details, but the basics will always remain the yes. You can go ahead and start a new religion, (many people have done so successfully) but the Torah has no expiration date.

  18. We were scattered all over the world. We did not have a land, state, government and lived as individuals in foreign lands. Judaism became focused on the individual and on his private service to Hashem. It was expected that the Sanctification of Hashem was from rabbis and Tzaddikim. The Hasidic movement changed this somewhat by teaching that even the ordinary Jew, in his small private life, could sanctify Hashem but they still focused on the individual. Rav Kook had a broader perspective on Judaism as a nation. Like any other nation, it is dependent on a homeland as its foundation. We lost this nation status in our Exile from our Land. The greatest Sanctification of Hashem was also lost by this Exile. The establishment of the nation of Eretz Yisrael was the life-goal and teaching of Moshe rabenu, Joshua and the great Kings of Israel. Judaism was and is much more than an individual’s private mitzvoth. It is the constitution of the nation of our Land. The true and greatest Sanctification of Hashem can only be achieved through the return of the nation to the Land and to our true Torah life. The Torah and Am Israel only reach true expression in their union with Eretz Yisrael thus bringing the mitzvah of living in Israel into a clearer light. The Ramban established a fundamental Halachic ruling that living in the Land of Israel and conquering the Land are commandments of the Torah which apply in every age. (Sefer HaMitzvot Command #4) Possessing the Land is a mitzvah and the opposite is a rebellion against Hashem. (Torat Eretz Yisrael pg 164).

    The Ramban and Rambam both left to Israel. Rambam was forced by the tough circumstances to go to Egypt but he wrote in his “Letter Concerning Forced Conversion”: “The obligation to fulfill the commandments is not dependent on the coming of the Moshiach. Rather, we are obligated to busy ourselves with Torah and precepts, and to strive to fulfill everything we can….” COME HOME NOW!

  19. Stephen Berman: “Even if all Jews lived in Israel and we rebuilt the Temple, would we actually go back to sacrificing animals?” Yes, Stephen Berman, when the Temple is rebuilt, we would actually go back to sacrificing animals. Do sacrifices seem repugnant, pagan, brutal and primitive?

    Maimonides writes (Guide for the Perplexed, 3:32) that animal sacrifice dates back to the most ancient times, having been a common form of worship from the earliest days of man's need for religious expression and experience in an effort to come as close as possible to G-d. Thus the Torah records the sacrifices of Cain, Abel, and Noah. The idea of sacrifices may seem difficult to understand and accept today, it is the commandment of the Holy One. The Hebrew word for "sacrifice" (korban, le-hakriv) is from the same root as "to come near, to approach. . . . to become closely involved in a relationship with someone." The English word “sacrifice” (Loss, Deprivation, etc) does not adequately render the meaning of the Hebrew word korban of man’s relationship with G-d as coming close. The goal of the Temple sacrifices is nothing less than the aim of dedication human life to a higher sphere of awareness…closer to the Creator and the source of all life. The Temple sacrifice is not an idea of giving something up or losing something of value but rather a striving for nearness to G-d.

    There is very much more to learn concerning sacrifices and would invite everyone to contact this site:

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